Our sword-queen returns, a reliable popstar deepens her foundations and Aldous Harding mesmerizes us with the power of dance. These are the songs of the month – five international, three local – as picked by The Spinoff’s culture editor Sam Brooks.
Handmade Heaven by Marina
Marina, now sans the Diamonds, has been one of the most reliable pop artists of the past few years, with each album presenting us a more secure, more confident artist whose experiments are strongly rooted in her foundation. Now with ‘Handmade Heaven’, produced by Joel Little, she continues to deepen her roots.
This is a truly cinematic, lush ballad that makes full use of her whistle-like upper register and her disarmingly direct middle register – it’s the first song that makes use of Marina’s impressive range, and it’s an incredible lead-off for what I have every confidence will be a stupendous fourth album.
ZORA by Jamila Woods
Jamila Woods’ last album was as strong an artist statement as I’ve heard – it blended spoken word with a kitchen sink’s worth of genre influences, giving us a group of songs that blended the intensely personal with the unabashedly political. Her new song ‘Zora’ loses neither of those leanings, but it sounds bigger, it sounds more lush, it sounds like it can fill any space. Heavn felt like it was recorded in someone’s bedroom, in the best possible way, but this feels like it needs to be sung with a full band, in a full arena.
It’s a progressive sounding song from an artist who has proven herself to be nothing but progressive.
Adore You by Jessie Ware
This! This is the Jessie Ware I missed.
It seemed like we had lost her to the Ed Sheeran co-writes and television credit balladery for a moment there. Last year’s ‘Overtime’, a full-bass 90s house track, showed a brief stab back to the Disclosure collaborations of her early career, and ‘Adore You’ shows that was not a one-off experiment. Working with some of the minds between Simian Mobile Disco (remember them?), ‘Adore You’ is a swoony ode to that first blush of love where nothing makes sense and all you can really say is, “I adore you.”
Ware’s voice has been hidden behind sodden lyrics and muddy production for a few years now, and hearing that voice break through cleanly is an utter gift, there’s even some high notes which call right back to Whitney’s ‘How Will I Know’. It’s that kind of song.
Capacity by Charly Bliss
There are three songs in this one song, and I like all three of them very much. There’s a PC Music song here – you put those vocals and those lyrics with a SOPHIE beat and you’ve got a hit that will get a certain subsection of the internet stanning. That guitar riff is pure grunge. And then the chorus is just pop goodness – hooky, melodic, all the things you want from a good pop song.
So I like all these three songs very separately, but all combined in the same Charly Bliss song, I love them.
Now That I Found You / No Drug Like Me by Carly Rae Jepsen
Is this two songs? Yes! Do you remember what a double A-side is? Probably not, you youths who read The Spinoff with your Spotify playlists and your Airpods.
At the end of what has frankly been a hellish February, we get the pure blast of joy that is Carly Rae Jepsen. And our sword-queen has deigned to give us not one but two songs, and I’m damned if I’m not including them both on this list.
Both these songs showcase Carly Rae Jepsen at her best. ‘Now That I Found You’ is a fifth-gear race down the motorway towards that heady mix of love, lust and not giving any cares about what the world thinks. The verses are confessional, almost whispered to the listener like they’re her best friend. The pre-chorus is brim to the lip with that energy of admitting something you know you shouldn’t, and then the chorus lifts off entirely. It’s top-tier CRJ.
On the flip of the A-side, ‘No Drug Like Me’ is more in the ‘Warm Blood’-vein of CRJ. It’s a slower, low-energy and much weirder. It’s the closest I’ve heard Carly come to come-hither, and it’s a register that suits her slightly raspy, effusively earnest vocals incredibly well.
And hey, on the plus side, this single is rounded off with ‘Party of One’, and that song makes so much more sense in this context.
The Barrel by Aldous Harding
Those first few seconds had me thinking we were listening to a Katie Melua song – which I mean entirely as a compliment. It’s pleasant in a way that envelopes you entirely, rather than slipping into the background. Then Aldous Harding’s distinctive, flute-like vocals kick in and you know, of course, this is an Aldous Harding song. It walks the tightrope between bewitching and haunting, despite how pleasant and lovely it is to listen to, there’s the slightest hint of threat and mystery. The barrel, the barrel, the barrel, indeed.
Also? That dance. Dance music video makers on YouTube, your next challenge is here. Move over, ‘Level Up’ by Ciara.
Temporary Crush by ASHY
From my piece on ASHY:
“I ran into ASHY’s music completely by accident. Every week I do a trawl through a few new music playlists to make sure that I, as someone who writes opinions about music far too often, knows what is good and what is bad. Usually my first stop is the Popjustice New Music Friday playlist, a definitive list of the best pop music from around the world every week.
Nestled around the middle reaches of that week’s playlist was a song called ‘Temporary Crush’.
Two things about ‘Temporary Crush’ struck me. First of all was the singer’s careless, tossed off vocal; full of personality and charisma without being overbearing or self-consciously theatrical. Secondly was the unashamed big pop sound of it, from the subtle drop on ‘crush’ in the chorus to the stabbing synths, it sounded like it could’ve come out of the Max Martin Factory (aka the entirety of Swedish pop music).”
No Difference by Jess Cornelius
Cornelius is now based in Los Angeles, but damned if New Zealand isn’t going to claim her back at some point – especially if her solo album matches how good this song is.
This is a gorgeous slow-burn of the song – you start off swaying, but as the song slowly builds you start jumping, you start headbanging. Plus, the lyric, “It makes no difference / you might as well be happy.” is one that could be a magnet on your most depressed-yet-hopeful friend’s fridge. The song digs in around the middle eight, the guitars get delightfully crunchy before letting up for the last chorus.
The best sing-alongs aren’t always the happiest ones, and this song damn near proves that. It makes no difference, y’all!
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.